News Release

Farmworkers: Now “Essential,” but “Denied the Just-Enacted Benefits”

DAVID BACON, dbacon at igc.org, @photos4justice
Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist. He just wrote the piece “America’s Farmworkers — Now ‘Essential,’ but Denied the Just-Enacted Benefits” for The American Prospect.

He writes: “In fields and rural communities across the United States the nation’s 2.5 million agricultural laborers are waiting for the shoe to drop — for the first cases of coronavirus among farmworkers. As they wait they are already feeling sharply the effects of the measures taken to contain the virus’s spread.

“Francisco Lozano, a farmworker in Santa Maria on California’s central coast, says poverty makes this crisis much worse. In the winter, when there’s no work, families live off meager savings from the previous season, and when those are exhausted, they borrow from family and friends. ‘This is the time work starts up again, picking strawberries,’ he says. ‘But instead of pulling ourselves out of debt, our situation is worse now than ever. … they’re paying by the hour — minimum wage [California’s minimum wage is $13 per hour.] That’s not enough to live on.’

“Working conditions themselves have deteriorated. ‘Because of the rains we’re working in the mud,’ he explains. ‘We work close to each other so social distancing is impossible. They tell us to wash our hands, but there are lots of people for each station and the soap runs out. People normally have colds at this time of year, and many of us have to work anyway because of the economic pressure. With the virus, that’s dangerous. But the growers just want production.’ …

“The final $2 trillion bailout and relief package adopted by Congress, however, includes a bar forbidding the undocumented from receiving its benefits. The legislation, the CARES Act, provides extended unemployment and one-time cash payments to low and middle-income families. People who lack legal immigration status, and even U.S. citizen children who have at least one undocumented parent, are excluded, however. That exclusion encompasses the majority of the nation’s farmworkers, and in California, as many as 70 percent of them.”